When the listing agent for a home my clients are buying in St. Paul's Macalaster-Groveland neighborhood told me it was once the site of the Minnesota governor's residence it immediately piqued my interest.
It is apparent that this particular stretch of Mac-Groveland bordering the Mississipi River is different. The streets are curving rather than straight, and there is a short divided parkway...
... with a round 'island' in the middle of the intersection at the end of the parkway. The houses are in different styles, built at different times including a whole street of mid-century moderns... but all appear to be upscale custom designs.
Then I found an old stone bridge on a drive between two homes next to the one my clients are buying... starting at Mississippi River Boulevard and winding between the two homes to connect to the street behind them. On the entrance side from the river there was a signpost saying 'Stonebridge'. I knew there had to be a story here.
I searched for more information but to my dismay I couldn't find anything that indicated there was ever a Minnesota governor's residence here or anywhere else before the current one on Summit Avenue.
However, once I discovered the 'Stonebridge' moniker I found a wealth of information about this former 28-acre estate of Oliver Crosby that bordered the Mississippi River just south of St. Clair Avenue. It was designed by architect Clarence Johnson (who also designed Glensheen Mansion in Duluth) and built during World War I. It featured astonishingly elaborate grounds which hosted lavish, glamorous galas. It may have been a source of inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in its glory days... it was considered and rejected as a governor's residence near the end of its days... and was demolished in 1953.
Check out this short YouTube video on Stonebridge from TPT ...
According to architectural critic Larry Millett, Stonebridge was "without a doubt, the greatest private estate ever built" in the Twin Cities. The grounds included hundreds of plantings, a city-block-long mall stretching from the front of the residence to the river bluffs, two artificial lakes, a rocky stream including waterfalls and reflecting pool with an island.
The south side of the house included a large sunken garden with fountains, wading pools and statues, plus a 100-foot-long pergola. Brick-lined walkways guided visitors throughout the property.
Just before the stream ran into the Mississippi, there was a large pool of water that became known as the frog pond because it had so many frogs and turtles. That area still exists, although with minimal water, on private property not far from the stone bridge.
A large frog from the grounds of the mansion is now located just outside the main entrance of the Como Conservatory... and the massive Stonebridge entrance gate is now at the west entrance to Como Park.
A helpful researcher at the Ramsey County Historical Society photocopied a wonderful article by Jay Pfaender that is no longer available for me which included a landscape plan. I superimposed today's streets in red over the plan below to get a sense of scale. Today 70 custom-designed homes occupy the 28 acres that once comprised Stonebridge. The entrance gate above was at the entrance off Mississippi Boulevard, with the road winding over the stone bridge back to the mansion.
Today the former Stonebridge estate is part of the Macalaster-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, a neighborhood often included in buyers' most desired neighborhoods. It is home to the University of St. Thomas and Macalaster College, with St. Catherine University on its border.
- Crocus Hill...the prestigious, historic St. Paul neighborhood where you can still find cobblestones
- St. Paul's Grand Avenue... small town feel in the big city
- St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood... easy access to both downtowns, the airport and trails
- Desnoyer Park... once planned to be the site of the State Capitol
- St. Paul